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Gunnison River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord
Gunnison River, Colorado

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

The Gunnison River, which is a principle tributary to the Colorado River, forms in Almont at the confluence of the Taylor and East Rivers in the Gunnison National Forest in Gunnison County on the southwestern Colorado Plateau, then flows generally south by southwest through the Town of Gunnison, then generally southwest to west where it is dammed to form Blue Mesa Reservoir. Flowing out of Blue Mesa Reservoir the river heads west by southwest through Morrow Point Reservoir and then Crystal Reservoir (these reservoirs forming the Upper Black Canyon area) below which it bends slightly north by northwest as it enters the Lower Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Montrose County through Gunnison Gorge to its confluence with the North Fork. From there, the Gunnison weaves and bends around the mountains generally heading any direction except east flowing through the Town of Delta in Delta County, then turning north again, where it flows through Grand Junction to its confluence with the Colorado River in Mesa County. Along the way the Gunnison cuts through a diverse cross-section of Colorado topography and offers a wide variety of runs to fit the skills and paddling interests of canoeists, kayakers and rafters, from beginner to expert level. The Gunnison River is fed by a number of major and minor rivers, creeks and streams including the Taylor, East, Uncompahgre, Smith Fork, Big and Little Cimarron, Lake Fork and North Fork Rivers, as well as Big and Little Dominguez, Escalante, Henson, Cebolla, Tomichi, Cochetopa, Daisy and numerous other creeks, many of which are exciting boating runs unto themselves.

Several of the access points require mountain goat skills to negotiate, especially when carrying boats and gear. This is bear country so be bear aware and take proper precautions to prevent dangerous encounters (including going with somebody whom you can outrun.) Much of the adjoining lands are privately owned, so avoid trespassing whenever possible. Required equipment includes a camera because the Gunnison and its tributaries are true marvels to behold. This most definitely includes Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park less than 10 miles east of Montrose. And while the runs through Black Canyon National Park are through a tight canyon most of the river flows through open, private land on one or both sides, so care should be taken to avoid trespassing. There are numerous private road crossings that do not lend themselves to use as access except in emergency situations, but the road is seldom far away from the river except in the canyons.

Parts of the Gunnison and some of its tributaries, especially Lower Black Canyon between Crystal Dam and Chukar Trail, are strictly Class V to V+ kayak runs, though most of this basin has rivers that can be safely paddled by those with novice to intermediate whitewater skill levels. Access is often difficult and access at many public roads is prohibited by private fences attached to bridge abutments blocking access. Parking is also a major issue on most of the rivers in this section. This results in some runs that are a little longer than many people prefer, but that is the price we pay for the thrills of paddling these streams. Runs that are particularly hazardous will be noted with bold, red typeface calling attention to the difficulty level of the run. Though parts of the Gunnison River have adequate flow almost all the time the section from the headwaters to Blue Mesa Reservoir will become low and non-navigable between September and March or April except in really wet years.

Colorado's Beautiful Gunnison River through Black Canyon

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Gunnison River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Gunnison River

[ Gunnison River Homepage ] [ Headwater to Blue Mesa ] [ Upper Lakes ] [ Black Canyon ] [ Gunnison Gorge ]
[ North Forks to Delta ] [ Delta to Escalante ] [ Escalante to Whitewater ] [ Whitewater to Colorado River ]


[ North Fork ] [ East River ] [ Taylor River ] [ Lake Fork River ] [ Ruby Fork Anthracite Creek ] [ Cimarron River ] [ Cebolla Creek ] [ Henson Creek ] [ Kannah Creek ] [ Uncompahgre River ]

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Last updated May 9, 2019

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